A friend of mine, definitely NOT an Alabama football fan, recently said this: “I’m tired of Alabama winning all the time. I want to see someone else win.”
It’s called, for lack of a better term, “Alabama fatigue.” It’s a state of mind that acknowledges that Alabama doesn’t win the national championship every year. It just seems like it.
LSU had a season for the ages in 2019, beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and followed Joe Burrow to the national championship.
Then Alabama responded by putting together what may have been the best offense in its history in 2020. It beat COVID and every team on its schedule to give Nick Saban his record-breaking seventh national championship.
So, with spring practice for 2021 on the books, the question must be asked: With six first-round NFL draft choices and 10 overall picks now gone, does my friend get any relief from his Alabama fatigue in 2021?
Saban told his radio show recently that the 2021 team would be very young.
But it’s also going to be very talented.
Here is our projected finish for the SEC West in 2021. Feel free to disagree.
**--Last season: 13-0; beat Florida 52-46 in SEC championship game; beat Notre Dame 31-14 in CFP semifinals; beat Ohio State 52-24 for CFP national championship.
**--Coach: Nick Saban, 15th season at Alabama.
**--First game: Sept. 4 vs. Miami (Atlanta)
**--Burning questions: Alabama lost a Heisman winning-receiver (DeVonta Smith), a first-round quarterback (Mac Jones), a first-round running back (Najee Harris) and a total of six first-round NFL Draft choices and 10 draft choices overall. If you’re an Alabama fan you saw early enrollee Agiye Hall make a couple of circus catches in the spring game. John Metchie III is more than ready to be the primary receiver. Sophomore quarterback Bryce Young threw for 333 yards. There is a new OC in Bill O’Brien. Harris was one of the most underrated players in college football. Brian Robinson will fill that spot nicely. I looked at the schedule. I don’t see a loss.
**--Last season: 9-1; beat North Carolina 41-27 in Orange Bowl.
**--Jimbo Fisher: Fourth season at Texas A&M.
**--First game: Sept 4 vs. Kent State.
**--Burning questions: Jimbo Fisher said he’s not worried about the quarterback position. Should he be? Kellen Mond is gone and waiting in the wings are two sophomores—Zach Calzada and Haynes King—who played extensively in the spring game. Both completed right at 50 percent of their passes. There is also the matter of rebuilding the offensive line so that Isaiah Spiller will have a shot at his second straight season of over 1,000 yards. Can the defense be really, really good again? It should. In a 2020 season where offenses were exploding, Texas A&M led the SEC in total defense (317.3 ypg). The Aggies return 13 of their top 15 tacklers from a season ago. And because of the extra year of eligibility awarded because of COVID, this unit will have a bunch of redshirt seniors and seniors. Note: Texas A&M plays Alabama in College Station on Oct. 9.
**--Last season: 5-5; did not play in bowl game.
**--Coach: Ed Orgeron, fifth season at LSU.
**--First game: Sept. 4 at UCLA.
**--Burning questions: Who will start at quarterback? Remember that Miles Brennan, who had waited his turn after two years of playing behind Joe Burrow, was playing pretty well when he suffered an abdominal injury in the third game against Missouri. Max Johnson eventually took over and played well down the stretch leading the Tigers to December wins over Florida (in the Swamp) and Ole Miss. I believe that Brennan will win the job and, if he stays healthy, will have a big year under new OC Jake Peetz, who worked under Joe Brady, the former LSU OC, at the Carolina Panthers. Will the defense improve? It has to under new DC Daronte Jones after giving up 492 yards per game. I just have a sense that Coach O and the gang are going to bounce back but can they beat Texas A&M in Baton Rouge on Nov. 27? That may be for second place in the SEC West.
**--Last season: 6-5; lost to Northwestern 35-19 in the Citrus Bowl.
**--Coach: Bryan Harsin, first season at Auburn.
**--First game: Sept. 4 vs. Akron.
**--Burning questions: Is Bo Nix ready to take the next step as quarterback? It’s definitely TBD. The Auburn fans surely hope so. Nix has talent. What he hasn’t shown in his first two seasons is the ability to make quality decisions under pressure. Enter new OC Mike Bobo, who developed a string of good quarterbacks at Georgia. The opportunity for Nix to be better is there because sophomore running back Tank Bigsby (834 yards, 6.04 yards per carry) is a flat stud. He’ll be running behind an offensive line that returns all of their starters and is being coached by Will Friend, one of the best OL coaches in the business. What’s the X-factor? Actually, there are two: 1) How will the defense look under new DC Derek Mason? 2) With the loss of receivers Seth Williams, Anthony Swartz, and Eli Stove, Elijah Canion needs to step up and be the go-to guy. This is a real area of concern.
**--Last season: 5-5; beat Indiana 26-20 in Outback Bowl.
**--Coach: Lane Kiffin, second year at Ole Miss.
**--First game: Sept. 6 vs. Louisville (Atlanta).
**--Burning questions: Who is going to replace Elijah Moore as Matt Corral’s primary receiver? Moore led the SEC in receiving yards per game (149.1) and the dude could flat make big plays. We won’t know the answer to this question for sure until summer when a couple of talented freshmen, Braylon Brown and J.J. Henry arrive in Oxford. Jonathan Mingo caught 27 passes while Dontario Drummond caught 25 passes last season. The Ole Miss defense doesn’t have to be good to win because of Kiffin’s offense. But can it not be awful? The numbers don’t lie: The Rebels were dead-last in the SEC in scoring defense (38.3 ppg) and last in total defense (519.0 ypg). That was second-worst in the entire FBS. Year two looks to be better. If the defense can give Kiffin’s offense an extra possession or two per game the Rebels could improve on this No. 5 projected finish.
**--Last season: 4-7; beat Tulsa 28-26 in Armed Forces Bowl.
**--Coach: Mike Leach, second year at Mississippi State.
**--First game: Sept. 4 vs. Louisiana Tech.
**--Burning questions: Is there really going to be a quarterback competition this summer? Sure looks like it. Will Rogers was the eventual starter last season but Leach brought in another quarterback in Jack Abraham, who played in 27 games for Southern Mississippi. Both showed flashes in the Mississippi State spring game, but not enough for Leach to name a starter for the Fall. Will Zach Arnett’s defense be good again? The Bulldogs were 4-7 last season with the No. 5 defense in the SEC (389.7 ypg). If Mississippi State’s defense can do that again, the Bulldogs will be better than a year ago. Leach’s history says his second season in a coaching stop shows significant improvement from the first.
**--Last season: 3-7.
**--Coach: Sam Pittman, second season at Arkansas.
**--First game: Sept. 4 vs. Rice.
**--Burning questions: Is K.J. Jefferson ready to be the man at quarterback for the Hogs? Jefferson, the leading candidate to replace Feleipe Franks, threw for 153 yards on 11 passing attempts in the spring game. He drew high praise from coach Sam Pittman. Franks is the only starter the Hogs lose from last season’s offense. Will Barry Odom’s defense, which also returns 10 starters, be just as opportunistic as last season? Arkansas was plus-five in turnover margin (18 takeaways, 13 giveaways) last season and that gave the Hogs a chance to win several more games. Last season Arkansas lost a two-point game (30-28 to Auburn), a three-point game (27-24 to LSU), and another two-point game (50-48 to Missouri). This is a well-coached football team. Can they get to 5-6 wins? Depends on the quarterback.